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Updated: July 6, 2010 02:24 IST

Genes hold key to living beyond 100

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Scientists have found that exceptional longevity may be the result of “defensive genes” that counter the effect of disease-associated damage to the body. File photo
Scientists have found that exceptional longevity may be the result of “defensive genes” that counter the effect of disease-associated damage to the body. File photo

Scientists have discovered new genes that can indicate with incredible accuracy who is most likely to live beyond the age of 100.

The team from Boston University, U.S., identified a group of genetic variants that can predict exceptional longevity in humans with 77 percent accuracy. They claim to have identified 150 bits of DNA common to people who have lived to a very old age.

The scientists believe the information could be used in younger people to customise treatment and prevent life-threatening diseases.

Based on the hypothesis that exceptionally old individuals are carriers of multiple genes that influence their remarkable survival, the team conducted a genome-wide association study of centenarians. They said centenarians are models of healthy aging, as the onset of disability in these individuals is generally delayed until they are well into their mid-nineties.

Lead researcher Paola Sebastiani built a unique genetic model that includes 150 genetic variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which could be used to predict if a person survived to very old ages — late 90s and older — with a high rate of accuracy.

The team’s analysis also identified 19 genetic clusters — or “genetic signatures” — of exceptional longevity that characterized 90 percent of the centenarians studied.

They said the different signatures correlated with differences in the prevalence of age related diseases, such as dementia and hypertension, and may help identify key groups of people who age healthily.

“These genetic signatures are a new advance towards personalised genomics and predictive medicine, where this analytic method may prove to be generally useful in prevention and screening of numerous diseases, as well as the tailored uses of medications,” telegraph.co.uk quoted Thomas Perls, founder and director of the New England Centenarian Study, as saying.

Overall, Sebastiani said the preliminary data suggest that exceptional longevity may be the result of “defensive genes” that counter the effect of disease-associated damage to the body and contribute to the compression of morbidity and disability towards the end of these very long lives.

Sebastiani added: “This prediction is not perfect, however, and although it may improve with better knowledge of the variations in the human genome, its limitations confirm that environmental factors — for example, lifestyle — also contribute in important ways to the ability of humans to survive to very old ages.”

The study was published online in the journal Science.

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